Community groups Hiked 4 Humanity for refugees on temporary visas


On Saturday 20 November, the Uniting Church Social Justice Unit along with many other community organisations and individuals joined together for a Hike 4 Humanity around the Kent Street Weir Park in Wilson. They are deeply concerned for the ongoing struggles of refugees on temporary visas living in our community with little hope of permanency and family reunion.

People like Salem Askari, a stonemason who has been working in the Perth building industry for the last eight years after fleeing Afghanistan as a refugee.

Salem is one of about 200 refugees on temporary visas who live in the Federal electorate of Swan – one of the main areas of Perth where refugees on temporary visas reside. They are working and living in the WA community but are stuck on temporary visas and can’t get their families to safety.

Salem says it was particularly devastating to see Kabul fall back into the hands of the Taliban when the Allied forces, including Australia, withdrew earlier this year.

“I am so stressed. It is really difficult to feel so helpless when your family are in such danger.”

Salem’s wife remains in Kabul and was working for the Afghan Government as a civil engineer up until the country fell. She is now in hiding, fearing for her life. He wishes he could sponsor her to come to Australia but since the Australian Government will only grant him a temporary visa, he is not permitted to bring her to safety.

“It is immensely frustrating. Eight years ago, I fled the same Taliban that my wife is now in danger from, but we still can’t be together, we can’t both be safe.

“I love living in Perth. Most of us have been here nearly a decade – we work hard, we pay tax, but we still are not allowed to settle. We want to invest in the community, we want to reunite with our family, but we need help to convince the Government to give us a permanent visa,” said Salem

Salem along with other refugees in his situation, and supporters in the WA Refugee and People Seeking Asylum Network (WARPSAN) of which the Uniting Church in WA is a member, have been organising to raise awareness of the difficulties of life on a temporary visa in a campaign called We All Need Our Families. The Hike 4 Humanity was planned as a family-friendly event to help launch the campaign and was successfully attended by approximately 160 people on the sunny Saturday morning.

The hike began with a welcome to Country by Clive Smith and his son Donald, both proud Wadjak Ballardong men, and then Salem shared some of his story along with Dr Hessom Razavi, a former refugee from Iran, now a writer and ophthalmologist based in Perth. Wendy Hendry from the Social Justice Unit was the MC, and gave attendees an overview of the campaign, and encouraged people to get involved, learn more and take action. An enthusiastic group of volunteers helped make it a successful event, marshalling participants around the hike circuit, finishing at the CARAD Fare Go food truck.

Geoff Bice, Executive Officer: Social Justice says “The Uniting Church in Australia is a long-standing advocate of the just treatment of people seeking asylum. We All Need Our Families is a community campaign to help put a spotlight on the cruelty of keeping people on a treadmill of temporary visas. We continue to hear the heartache of refugees and people seeking asylum who have fled the likes of the Taliban but are now powerless to help their direct family escape the same persecution.”

Geoff encouraged people to find out more about the refugees caught in this cycle of uncertainty, and about how to get involved by going to the We All Need Our Families website.

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Nauru Detention Centre must be closed

The Uniting Church is renewing its call for the immediate closure of the Nauru detention centre after another damning report into the centre’s operations.

The Senate Select Committee’s report released on Monday describes a disturbing lack of transparency and accountability about what is happening in the centre. It raises serious issues about the safety and wellbeing of people and concludes that the detention centre is ‘not adequate, appropriate or safe’ for asylum seekers.

Mr Stuart McMillan, president of the Uniting Church in Australia said, “It is Australia’s moral responsibility to ensure that asylum seekers are safe in these centres. But they are not safe. How many reports and allegations of the abuse and sexual assault of women and children do we need before the Government takes action?”

“The Uniting Church has long been calling on the Australian Government to close the detention centre on Nauru and bring everyone to Australia. The Government should act immediately on the Committee’s recommendation that all children and their families be released,” said Stuart.Continue Reading

Detention adds death to distress and despair


Part of what makes our nation and our society so great is the Australian concept of a ‘fair go’, along with the willingness to ‘lend a hand.’ It is part of our core business as churches and community organisations to care for the vulnerable, for the stranger. Indeed you could suggest it is part of every Australian’s DNA to care for those in need. It is with great sadness then that we must admit that we have neglected to lend a hand to asylum seekers and we are not providing them with anything closely related to a ‘fair go’. Instead our detention policies are actually adding distress to despair – and now death as well. Mohammad Nazim Najafi, aged in his mid-twenties, died a lonely death last Friday evening.

The Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD) has been working with a number of churches and community groups visiting asylum seekers in Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), on the outskirts of Northam since the centre was opened in 2012. We have come to personally know many of the asylum seekers who are detained there, with friendships formed and affection shared. Their stories are all unique, and yet share similar threads – longings for loved ones, memories of war and persecution, journeys of peril, and always, a desire to work, to contribute and ultimately give back to Australian society.

So it is with troubled hearts that we share this reality: detention and the length of time it is taking to complete the claims assessment process is killing our friends. We have slowly watched the despair rise to levels we did not dare believe it could go. Just last week the debilitating hopelessness that indefinite detention brings contributed to the death of a young asylum seeker at the Yongah Hill IDC. In the past year two men with Bridging Visas have taken their own lives in Perth. We cannot let such tragedies occur so quietly. We invite you to share our dismay, our outrage and demand another way. The halls of these detention centres and the processes of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) have too many shadows for a democracy such as ours.Continue Reading

A day of great moral failure

The Uniting Church in Australia has expressed its dismay at changes passed to the Migration and Maritime Powers Acts which will cause greater suffering for those vulnerable people seeking refuge in Australia.

“Today is a day of great moral failure for Australia,” said Uniting Church President, Rev Prof Andrew Dutney, in response to legislation that passed the Senate in the early hours of Friday morning.

“The Federal Government has now made it legal to punish the strangers that Jesus called Christians to welcome, simply for seeking our protection.”

These measures will only cause more suffering for refugees who have already suffered so much,” said Andrew.

The Uniting Church has long-standing concerns about the policies of successive governments which aim to punish and deter rather than protect people in need.

The legislation passed by the Senate grants unprecedented powers to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, placing the Minister’s decisions out of reach of the courts and giving him permission to act contrary to international law.Continue Reading

Church leaders hold prayer vigil inside Josh Frydenberg’s Melbourne Office


Advocates for children suffering in detention welcome today’s decision to release SOME of the children from detention, but intend to stay until they have a timetabled commitment from the Government for ALL children to be released.

Christian leaders concerned about all vulnerable children in Australia’s detention centres are holding a prayer vigil inside the Camberwell electorate office of Josh Frydenberg, Liberal Member for Kooyong and Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The group entered Mr Frydenberg’s office at 10.00am and say they intend to remain until they get a timetabled commitment from the Government that all children will be released from immigration detention centres.

The group welcomes today’s decision by the Government to release a small contingent of children and celebrate this as victory for the whole movement and is a step forward in the right direction.  However, there are still grave concerns for the 662 children outside the criteria of release who will remain in detention and we will not stop until every last child is released from the cruelty of detention. Continue Reading

Stop playing politics with lives

On 21 June, church groups, political groups, non-government organisations (NGOs) and caring individuals gathered on a hill facing the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre to  show the detainees inside that we did care about their plight and that they weren’t forgotten. We stood on our hill, waved banners, lights and shouted chants. In turn detainees would chant back. They knew that we were there and they were thankful.

That evening, as an Amnesty International representative, I gave a speech where I reflected on how I first came across the problems faced by refugees in Australia. I was about 10 and  found a picture of a barbed wire fence with children behind it on the cover of a magazine. I assumed that far away something terrible was happening and we were being asked to help fix  it. We were after all the lucky country and we were often using that luck to help others. Continue Reading

We’ll take families out of detention, West Australians offer

Western Australian churches and leading non-government care organisations have offered support and housing in the community for families with infants being held in offshore detention, following reports of desperate mothers self-harming and attempting suicide on Christmas Island, and offers like this being made by organisations in Queensland and South Australia.

Organisations including the Anglican Diocese of Perth, the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, the Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD), and the Salvation Army have written to the Minister of Immigration to make this offer. The organisations have joined with other not for profits in Australia who are making this sort of proposal offering to house and support detained families with young children, allowing them to live in the Australian community while their claims are processed.

The Acting Moderator of the Uniting Church in Western Australia, Rev Ken Williams said, “We must always remember that asylum seekers are human like us. We find it deeply concerning that nearly 1000 children remain in detention and yet both major parties remain unmoved in their position on asylum seekers. What we are saying today is that alternatives are available. Detention is no place for any child and as a first step towards the release of all people in dehumanising detention, we offer to care for families with newborns and infants.”

At least 71 children have been born in Australia to women seeking asylum. Some mothers are brought to the mainland to give birth before being returned to off-shore detention, while others in the on-shore network have been deported to Christmas Island with their young babies.Continue Reading

Uniting Church condemns escalating abuse of asylum seekers

The Uniting Church in Australia has today strongly condemned the continuing and systematic abuse of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat and those being held indefinitely in unsuitable offshore detention centres.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Prof Andrew Dutney said that the Government’s inhumane treatment of 157 Tamil asylum seekers had plumbed new depths of cruelty.

“The revelations about what happened to the Tamil asylum seekers while they were detained on a Customs vessel are truly shocking,” said Andrew.

“Capturing people on the high seas, detaining them in harsh conditions and then threatening to set them to sea without experienced navigators or sailors, demonstrates a level of hysteria on the part of the Government that is extremely disturbing.

“In its single-minded efforts to ‘stop the boats’, this Government has lost its moral compass. What started badly enough as using asylum seekers for political point-scoring has degenerated into a callous disregard for the value of human life.”Continue Reading

Freo fiesta welcomes refugees

An energetic crowd took to the streets of Fremantle last weekend to show their support and welcome for asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.

The Refugee Fiesta, held on the Fremantle Esplanade on Sunday 15 June, was a family friendly affair with speakers, food, music and activities. Organised by the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN), the Uniting Church in WA joined other organisations such as Amnesty International,  Coalition for Refugees Asylum Seekers and Detainees (CARAD), Mercy Care, the Anglican Church Diocese of WA and Friends of Palestine as they showed their support.Continue Reading

Could you eat like a refugee?

Burmese people have lived through decades of conflict. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homeland for neighbouring Thailand and now live in refugee camps along the Thailand– Burma border. Some have been living in the camps for decades.

Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia, works in the Thai/Burma border refugee camps and is challenging Australians to make a difference to the lives of these refugees. In a new initiative called the ‘Act for Peace Ration Challenge’ they are asking  members of the Uniting Church and communities around Australia to eat the same rations as a refugee from Burma during Refugee Week, 15-21 June, and get sponsored for doing it. Continue Reading